David Mitchell's novel Cloud Atlas consists of six stories set in various periods between 1850 and a time far into Earth's post-apocalyptic future. Each segment lives on its own the previous first person account picked up and read by a character in its successor creating connective tissue between each moment in time. The various stories remain intact for Tom Tykwer's (Run Lola Run) Lana Wachowski's and Andy Wachowski's (The Matrix) film adaptation which debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival. The massive change comes from the interweaving of the book's parts into one three-hour saga — a move that elevates the material and transforms Cloud Atlas in to a work of epic proportions.
Don't be turned off by the runtime — Cloud Atlas moves at lightning pace as it cuts back and forth between its various threads: an American notary sailing the Pacific; a budding musician tasked with transcribing the hummings of an accomplished 1930's composer; a '70s-era investigatory journalist who uncovers a nefarious plot tied to the local nuclear power plant; a book publisher in 2012 who goes on the run from gangsters only to be incarcerated in a nursing home; Sonmi~451 a clone in Neo Seoul who takes on the oppressive government that enslaves her; and a primitive human from the future who teams with one of the few remaining technologically-advanced Earthlings in order to survive. Dense but so was the unfamiliar world of The Matrix. Cloud Atlas has more moving parts than the Wachowskis' seminal sci-fi flick but with additional ambition to boot. Every second is a sight to behold.
The members of the directing trio are known for their visual prowess but Cloud Atlas is a movie about juxtaposition. The art of editing is normally a seamless one — unless someone is really into the craft the cutting of a film is rarely a post-viewing talking point — but Cloud Atlas turns the editor into one of the cast members an obvious player who ties the film together with brilliant cross-cutting and overlapping dialogue. Timothy Cavendish the elderly publisher could be musing on his need to escape and the film will wander to the events of Sonmi~451 or the tortured music apprentice Robert Frobisher also feeling the impulse to run. The details of each world seep into one another but the real joy comes from watching each carefully selected scene fall into place. You never feel lost in Cloud Atlas even when Tykwer and the Wachowskis have infused three action sequences — a gritty car chase in the '70s a kinetic chase through Neo Seoul and a foot race through the forests of future millennia — into one extended set piece. This is a unified film with distinct parts echoing the themes of human interconnectivity.
The biggest treat is watching Cloud Atlas' ensemble tackle the diverse array of characters sprinkled into the stories. No film in recent memory has afforded a cast this type of opportunity yet another form of juxtaposition that wows. Within a few seconds Tom Hanks will go from near-neanderthal to British gangster to wily 19th century doctor. Halle Berry Hugh Grant Jim Sturgess Jim Broadbent Ben Whishaw Hugo Weaving and Susan Sarandon play the same game taking on roles of different sexes races and the like. (Weaving as an evil nurse returning to his Priscilla Queen of the Desert cross-dressing roots is mind-blowing.) The cast's dedication to inhabiting their roles on every level helps us quickly understand the worlds. We know it's Halle Berry behind the fair skinned wife of the lunatic composer but she's never playing Halle Berry. Even when the actors are playing variations on themselves they're glowing with the film's overall epic feel. Jim Broadbent's wickedly funny modern segment a Tykwer creation that packs a particularly German sense of humor is on a smaller scale than the rest of the film but the actor never dials it down. Every story character and scene in Cloud Atlas commits to a style. That diversity keeps the swirling maelstrom of a movie in check.
Cloud Atlas poses big questions without losing track of its human element the characters at the heart of each story. A slower moment or two may have helped the Wachowskis' and Tykwer's film to hit a powerful emotional chord but the finished product still proves mainstream movies can ask questions while laying over explosive action scenes. This year there won't be a bigger movie in terms of scope in terms of ideas and in terms of heart than Cloud Atlas.
OK, let's get the burning question out of the way first: No, we still don't know who the last "Survivor" is. There were five of the blockbuster show's castoffs at CBS' fall press tour, interrogated under a hot spotlight by a roomful of overly air-conditioned journalists. But a happily reunited Sonja, B.B., Ramona, Joel and Gretchen (as well as the show's executive producer, Mark Burnett) didn't budge, although Gretchen did joke, "Everybody already knows who the winner is. It would be Mr. Burnett and CBS."
We reporters tried. We crept up from all sides, seeking clues and asking about those recent reports saying that a glitch in the CBS Web site had unwittingly revealed that the winner of "Survivor" is Gervase, the quarrelsome youth counselor.
In response, CBS Television President Les Moonves announced that the network will now post the show synopses only after each episode has aired, rather than prepare it ahead of time with system blockage (rather ineffective, since a computer hacker revealed the results prematurely).
Moonves also pledged that unused "Survivor" footage won't make its way into Blockbuster stores, a la "The Jerry Springer Show." In other words, "There will not be any more naked pictures of Richard than we already have out there," Moonves says.
By contrast, the press conference for CBS' other (and less successful) reality series, "Big Brother," was one of the most heated -- and torturous. William "Mega" Collins, the first houseguest to be voted off the show, was paraded before the press, and he was less-than-charming and confrontational as usual.
But that doesn't necessarily make him interesting. After the umpteenth roundabout spiritual oration in response to questions regarding his former association with the New Black Panther Party for Self Defense, a reporter scribbled his potential headline on a notepad and passed it to another to see: "Big Bore-ther."
The rest of the press tour (aka the unreality section) was mostly humdrum, as the Eye Network trotted out the stars and producers of three new sitcoms and four new dramas. Four, that is, if you count "The Fugitive," the remake of the popular 1960s David Janssen series that inspired the 1993 Harrison Ford film. This one stars Tim Daly in the title role and Mykelti Williamson ("Forrest Gump") as the chaser.
Most of the new shows read like a TV-vet reunion party: Craig T. Nelson ("Coach") as an underdog police chief in the crime drama "The District"; Christine Baranski ("Cybill") in the weatherman sitcom "Welcome to New York"; Marg Helgenberger ("China Beach") in "C.S.I.," a drama about forensic investigators.
The others are made up of short-lived sitcom refugees: The cast of "That's Life," a drama about a 30-something college student, stars Heather Paige Kent ("Jenny," "Stark Raving Mad"); and Anthony Clark, Mike O'Malley and Jean Louisa Kelly team up for the couple-y comedy "Yes, Dear." Anyone remember "Boston Common," "The Mike O'Malley Show" and "Cold Feet," respectively? We didn't think so.
The weary press were also treated to appearances by Tyne Daly and Blair Underwood for returning dramas "Judging Amy" and "City of Angels," respectively. Christopher Plummer, Ving Rhames and Bruno Kirby discussed their still-filming miniseries "An American Tragedy," about the O.J. Simpson defense trial team. And let's not forget Bette Midler, who appeared via satellite to promote "Bette," a sitcom about a diva/wife/mother.
In between, the good people at CBS scheduled screenings, served fruit smoothies and root beer floats, and threw a star-filled party, without, as they said, "the island cuisine afforded the 16 castaways."
Translation? Not a fried rat in sight.